Fall Balancing Act with Japanese Black Pines

I was asked to respond to a post about balancing a Japanese Black Pine last month. The problem was that summer candle-pruning, or care thereafter had resulted in a pine that was growing less balanced in strength.

As an homage to Peter Warren’s Rastafarian Pine from 20 years ago, here is a shot of the pine under consideration, color-coded by strength:

Since we are in the fall season, the right work to do at this time is what we’d normally do with pines in the fall…pull needles, prune excess shoots, and reduce terminal buds to pairs.

How to start? Find the weakest areas of the tree (lower, interior, shaded branches). Count the needle pairs from this season’s growth on those shoots to establish an average. Next, size up the buds…determine the average size of the weakest buds. Consider this as the average weak shoot for our example. It has about 15 needle pairs and one bud set for next year:

We can’t add needles and buds, so to relatively strengthen this shoot, we need to make the remaining shoots no stronger than this one.

Identify medium-strength areas. They will have more needle pairs and multiple buds. Likely higher in the tree, and more to the outside where they receive better sun than the weak shoots. Here is a medium strength shoot. It’s current-year needles will be reduced to 12-15 pairs.

After reducing to 12-15 needle pairs:

After removing new needles, turn attention to next year’s buds. Notice how this medium shoot has 3 buds set for next year, a strong one in the middle, and two side buds.

To continue the balancing act, remove the middle bud, leaving the two smaller side buds. Notice how they’re side-by-side? This makes it easier to wire later. And, since they’re about equal in size, we are better balancing the branch.

Now, here is an exaggerated example of a strong shoot, congested along its length with new needles, and at its tip with new buds. These are nearly always at the apex and the outermost upper shoots.


Needles are reduced to about 10 pairs:

Then buds are reduced to a pair; the smallest, and those situated across from one another.

Scroll back through the photos and note how the buds that were left for next year are all roughly the same size? All part of the balancing act!

Black pine posts are always fun to write. If you’ve enjoyed the last few posts, be sure to check out my book, “Developing Japanese Black Pine Bonsai” here to see the pine in last week’s post develop in nearly time-lapse fashion over 7 years…nursery can to antique Chinese container! Thanks for reading. Next week, we’ll flash back to the Nashville Bonsai show from the summer.


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